Past Eating Disorders Linked To Long-Term Depression Risk For Mothers

woman depressed

Eating disorders can affect women in an endless number of ways, both physically and mentally. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 20 million women in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders can present a variety of health complications for women and now a new study is showing that mothers who have suffered eating disorders in the past may face a risk of depression in the future.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that women who had a history of eating disorders before getting pregnant or even during their pregnancy are at a greater risk of exhibiting symptoms of depression in the future, at some points almost 20 years in the future.

"We found that women who have had an eating disorder at any point before childbirth, even if it was years earlier in adolescence, were more likely to experience depressive symptoms during pregnancy and up to 18 years after the birth of their child," lead author of the study Dr. Francesca Solmi stated, Science Daily reports. The authors of the study said their findings suggest that people may never really recover from eating disorders since "eating disorders and depression often happen at the same time."

The researchers looked at data from over 9200 women which found that women with a history of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia were more prone to experience symptoms of depression, even years after recovery and having had children. This is despite other studies suggesting pregnancy may help with symptoms of depression with those who have had eating disorders. Researchers say this information is key in helping to provide adequate support and treatment for both mother and baby when necessary.

"Depressive symptoms in mothers have been shown to be associated with a number of negative outcomes for their children, such as emotional and behavioral problems. It is therefore important, to identify and treat eating disorders early, as these could be one potential cause of the depressive symptoms," said Dr. Solmi. "We should also identify pregnant women with an eating disorder so that they can be provided with mental health support. This could benefit both mother and child in the long run."

Co-author Dr. Abigail Easter said the findings of this report prove that doctors and midwives need better training on how to identify potential eating disorders among patients to ensure the proper treatment is being given.

First author of the study Yu Wei Chua emphasized the need for early diagnosis and treatment. "There's a lot of stigma around both depression and eating disorders, so many people might not feel comfortable talking about it or seeking help. Assessment of mental illness in pregnancy, as standard practice, could help health professionals pick up on signs of depression and/or eating disorders at this crucial stage of life."

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